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Timothy B. Lee

Timothy B. Lee

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Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government. She also delves into the societal impacts of technology access and how innovation is intertwined with cultural development.

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Posted at 04:23 PM ET, 05/09/2011

Sen. Rockefeller introduces ‘do not track’ bill for Internet

Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) on Monday introduced an online “do not track” privacy bill that would allow consumers to block Internet companies from following their activity on the Web.

The Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011 comes amid increased attention by lawmakers on creating privacy rules for the Internet. The White House has called for such rules but has not supported a specific mandate that would block companies from tracking users.

Rockefeller, chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, said in a statement that recent reports of privacy breaches show that companies have too much freedom to collect user data on the Internet.

His legislation would force companies to abide by a consumer’s choice to opt out of such data collection. The Federal Trade Commission would draw up specific “do not track” rules. The agency and states’ attorneys general would enforce the law. And the legislation would apply to mobile phones — a growing platform for accessing the Internet.

“I believe consumers have a right to decide whether their information can be collected and used online,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “This bill offers a simple, straightforward way for people to stop companies from tracking their movements online.”

Already, Microsoft’s Bing and Mozilla’s Firefox browsers have been redesigned to allow users to block marketers from tracking what sites they visit and their other activities online.

But without a law, no Internet company is required to honor the consumer request, privacy groups said.

“This bill will put regulatory support behind these industry initiatives and make sure that online providers listen to the many consumers who want to clearly say ‘No’ to online tracking,” said Ioana Rusu, regulatory counsel for Consumers Union. “This complements the comprehensive online privacy legislation introduced by Senators [John] Kerry and [John] McCain last month.”

Tuesday, a new Senate privacy subcommittee will hear from Apple and Google, among others, about location data collection and whether the firms have been logging that information through mobile devices.

In the House, Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) said they are working on a “do not track” bill aimed at children.

NetChoice, a trade group representing Internet firms such as eBay and Yahoo, said new laws can hamper online commerce. Firms want to be able to deliver ads that are as targeted to individuals as possible for higher revenues.

“American consumers love how the Internet gives the information you want, when you want it, and location-based technology adds even more value since this info can also be tailored to right where you are,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice.

“Online services will make location-based info the next big thing in internet innovation, and we may be lucky enough to get advertisers to pay for a lot of it.”

Related stories:

With quick click, teens part with online privacy

Obama, Zuckerberg meeting highlights importance of Silicon Valley

White House, FTC urge privacy laws

By  |  04:23 PM ET, 05/09/2011

 
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